Byron Bay Bluesfest, 2014
A quarter of a century ago, the Byron Bay Bluesfest ran for the first time, out at the old Brewery on the western edge of town. This weekend, as the event celebrates its silver anniversary, the evolution in one of Australia’s most successful music festivals couldn’t be more evident.
Coming from humble origins, Bluesfest is now big business; hundreds of artists performing on six stages over five days to tens of thousands of punters out at its now permanent home, the Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm. It’s no longer simply a blues festival either, but one which showcases a myriad styles of music, from pop to rock, blues, jazz and all in between.
The 25th incarnation of the event kicked off the Thursday just gone under cloudless blue skies, sodden Easter weekends of years past a distant memory. Numbers seem slightly down this year, perhaps because headliners John Mayer, Dave Matthews Band and The Doobie Brothers don’t have the pulling power exhibited by Robert Plant, Bob Dylan, and Paul Simon over the past few years.
Regardless, Bluesfest has still attracted a true music crowd in 2014, from young kids getting about in felt hats and American-Indian headdresses to veterans, camping chairs slung over shoulders; it’s a listening crowd, lovers of the form.
“It just feels like home,” Friday night headliner Jack Johnson, a festival regular since 2002, told the Sun-Herald. “It’s very free, and I think [artists] feel free to stretch out onstage, try things you haven’t tried before, it’s that kind of audience, you don’t feel judged. You’d almost be judged more if you didn’t try things.”
At time of writing, Johnson’s set had drawn the biggest crowd of the weekend, all singing along, a true family gathering. For that’s what Bluesfest is, one big, happy, diverse family, one which will no doubt keep meeting annually for the next 25 years.
Samuel J. Fell